Not a band-aid fix: Health Services plagued with issues

Entrance to Health Services in the Health and Recreation Center. Photo from Collegian Archives. 

CASSANDRA STEC | STAFF REPORTER | cmstec@butler.edu

Throughout my four years at Butler, I’ve found myself having to go to Health Services for a slew of things, whether it’s flu shots, illness or the need for a therapist. I’ve always been fortunate enough to find appointments when I needed them for any medical issues I faced, though counseling was a bit trickier. Health Services is the one place on Butler’s campus students can and should go to receive medical care and counseling. Whether it be from Rhonda Jackson’s departure or understaffing, students have noticed pitfalls in the care they receive from Health Services in the past few years.

Julia Denkmann, a senior finance and Spanish major, sought medical help from Health Services for a concussion she got on Sept. 18. She was told to seek medical help elsewhere after she called asking about open appointments.

“I called them on Tuesday, I think, and they were like ‘we don’t have any appointments till next week and go to urgent care’ and I was like ‘oh, okay,’” Denkmann said. “I did have a concussion; I didn’t know what I was doing, so that was great. I [also] had to find one of my friends to drive me to urgent care.”

Denkmann feels as though Health Services is not as accommodating or dependable enough for students to reliably visit them for medical help or counseling.

“I know a lot of people that don’t go there, because they think it’s hard to find appointments or just like Health Services aren’t — I hate to say it but — good,” Denkmann said. “For the most part, I would say that I feel like we’re paying a lot for them to do not a lot, or at least not be very accommodating or available when they should be.”

In addition to Health Services’ scarcity of available appointments, students have been struggling with getting appointments for the Counseling and Consultation Services. Recently, to combat this, Butler purchased a subscription for each student to Headspace — a mental health service that features a variety of resources such as meditation — and hired three new full-time staff for the CCS.

While Butler has taken the time to add new resources that will hopefully help students, especially in the CCS realm, the current problems in Health Services have plagued the university for years. 

Ella Murphy-Kalkbrenner, a junior mechanical engineering and economics dual major, first went to Health Services her first year on campus to receive some vaccinations she hadn’t previously gotten. The only appointment available to her was at 8:00 AM, but she noticed that throughout her time waiting, both before her appointment as well as after, no other students entered the space. 

Later on in the semester during her first year, Murphy-Kalkbrenner suspected that she had a concussion and sought her parents’ advice. Her dad, an EMT, told her that Health Services should have concussion tests. She immediately called Health Services to let them know that she would be coming in for a concussion test. Similarly to Denkmann, their response to her call was that there were no appointments and to seek medical help at urgent care.

“I did go but urgent care doesn’t do concussion tests, so I had to go to the ER, and I ended up with an ER bill instead of just being able to go to Health Services,” Murphy-Kalkbrenner said. “My mom called and yelled at them. Then they called me back and…their response was ‘oh we’re so sorry about that, we can see you on Monday’ and it was a Thursday.”

After her experience with Health Services during her first year, Murphy-Kalkbrenner, as well as the majority of her friends, choose to seek care from primary care physicians or urgent care off-campus. Due to the difficulties they encountered, Murphy-Kalkbrenner and her friends no longer utilize a service that is specifically designed for students to have access to medical help  on campus. 

However, needing to seek off-campus care complicates a seemingly simple process that should be available for students to utilize. This complication is especially concerning given that healthcare should be a human right and some students haven’t been able to adequately access this right when attempting to get medical help from Health Services.

While Butler’s heart may be in the right place, they are still missing the mark and students are suffering due to that. Health Services, like many other student experience-based departments at Butler, is overworked and under-staffed

Hope Horsfall, a sophomore health sciences major, hasn’t used Health Services prior to any COVID-19 related requirements. She recently tried to make an appointment for a painful ear infection only to be told to seek medical care elsewhere, like Murphy-Kalkbrenner and Denkmann. She found herself frustrated by the experience as well as the lack of resources.

“I feel like for the amount of people here, there should be way more already that is just like the bare minimum,” Horsfall said. “I don’t know, I wish that they had more resources, or at least more options than just calling them, trying to schedule appointments and being told you can’t get appointments till October, and this was like weeks ago.”

Concussions and ear infections are not the only injuries that have been turned away from Health Services, especially not recently. Whether students have been turned away or find that there’s no appointments online, there is an obvious breakdown of communications between students and Health Services leading to students not receiving the adequate care they expect.

While many students with their own health insurance are able to seek assistance from outside the university, international students and students that don’t provide their own insurance are forced to purchase Butler’s insurance; some of whom have had difficulties being seen or allowed to go to other places to seek the medical assistance they need.

Allison Welz, a senior biology and religion major, has used Butler’s health insurance policy since her first year. She found that other insurance providers were expensive hence why she has Butler’s policy; but throughout her time at the university, Welz has had issues with how Butler informs students of its policy. 

“When I was looking into outside care providers, [counseling] was covered by insurance; but unless I really read the policy, I would have gotten charged the full amount because I hadn’t obtained prior authorization,” Welz said. “I don’t think a lot of students know that and [they] think they can go to any of the outside providers, but if they don’t read the fine lining then they won’t know they need a prior authorization from Butler Health Services. That really put a damper on things, and it wasn’t super great coverage, but it is what it is.”

Even though she got prior authorization, Welz still had to cancel her first counseling appointment with the outside provider because her authorization wasn’t processed fast enough, and she couldn’t afford the out of pocket cost. 

In addition to the difficulties she’s had with figuring out the best process for utilizing her Butler insurance, Welz knows that things would have been worse if she hadn’t gone to Butler’s Health Services for counseling when she was a first year. 

“Luckily I had already gone to Health Services before for counseling resources,” Welz said. “If I hadn’t, I would have to do an intake with them and then they would release me. Knowing that they’re pretty backed up already, it would have taken even longer for me to see a provider.”

One thing that Welz wishes that Butler did regarding their health insurance policy when she was a first year is to explain how the policy works and what the various terminology means. Some terms, such as ‘premium pro rata’ or ‘qualifying life event,’ could confuse students. As someone with no background regarding insurance jargon, she couldn’t understand it herself and needed assistance from her parents. 

“If you log into United Healthcare Resources, you can find your policy and everything, but [it can be confusing] unless you understand insurance or have your parents work with you on that,” Welz said. “I didn’t know anything. It would have been really beneficial to have someone explain to me in layman’s terms what am I covered for, what am I not covered for, how do I go about getting proper coverage and things.”

While students have been trying their best to be understanding with the limited resources Health Services has, many are still very frustrated and upset by the situation that they were forced to be in while they were trying to seek help.

Horsfall is one of the students impacted by Health Services’ situation, and she’s irked with the lack of options and inaccessibility.  

“They wanted to get me an appointment like they were trying their best,” Horsfall said. “I think they just have very, very limited resources that they’re working with so they were limited in the times they could help me. It was just frustrating that there weren’t options on campus given how much we pay to be here. We also need to find a ride [for off-campus resources] and it just made healthcare very inaccessible. The most frustrating part is how much you pay for how little you get back.”

Though Butler is taking steps to help remedy issues regarding staffing and appointments in the CCS, Health Services as a whole seems to be left to fend for itself and find its way after the departure of Jackson and the lack of staffing for the space. Additionally, the times in which Health Services are open — Monday through Friday, 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM — is not helpful to students whose schedule doesn’t allow them time to seek medical help between, before or after classes. Students that are forced to be on Butler’s health insurance should not have to incur additional costs for services they should already have access to on campus. 

Health Services needs both better hours for students and more staff. Students should not be attending a university where they’re paying almost $60,000 a year to not have consistent access to on-campus health care.

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